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Youth will be served

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - They come along every year, the young, rising superstar that a couple of years from now, you will be dying to own. In one-year leagues, it's not that important to get him on your roster today, but in keeper leagues, it's an extremely valuable tool.

Here's a perfect example from my keeper league here at the Sports Network. It was in early May of 2007 and my pitching staff had struggled for most of the spring. I read a tiny blurb about a pitcher in the San Francisco Giants organization that caught my attention. Apparently this righthander had thrown 31 innings in the minor leagues and was 4-0 with an ERA of 0.29, a WHIP of 0.742 and 46 strikeouts in 31.0 innings. Further research found that he was about to be called up by the "big club."

So I quickly logged onto my team and entered the name Tim Lincecum on my roster. He struggled a bit that first year, but as we all know, he's been pretty good from 2008-2010 going 49-22 with an ERA of 2.83. a WHIP of 1.161 and 757 strikeouts in 664.2 innings and two Cy Young Awards

It's not just mid-season call ups like Buster Posey that are important.

There are plenty of rookies who will start the season in the majors. And there are also other youngsters who will get their first full-time opportunities.

These are the guys that you should target in the mid-to-late rounds. They won't cost you much, but will produce well beyond their draft position.

In 2010 think about how Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward could have helped your roster. The young Braves slugger homered on Opening Day to introduce himself to the world, but he was likely already on a roster as his 2010 ADP was 137 (a 13th-round selection). He was solid in his first season (18 HR, 72 RBI, .849 OPS, 11 SB), but it's in years two and three that you and I will be kicking ourselves for not choosing him for our keeper league.

How about Cincinnati outfielder Drew Stubbs who with his 2010 ADP of 237 was either a last-round pick or a free agent when the season began. He'll be picked much higher in 2011 (ADP 98), if he's available at all, after posting a 22 HR, 30 SB season that showed the kind of speed and power that is a rarity in the major leagues.

Gaby Sanchez, first baseman for Florida, got his first taste of full-time action and posted a 19 HR, 85 RBI season. His ADP of 307 means he was a free agent, but in 2011 he's got an ADP of 163 and even that might be a bargain price.

But who will be this year's prize catches?

I'm very high on Tampa Bay's No.5 starter Jeremy Hellickson (ADP 189). Hellickson appeared in 10 games last season and started just four, but they made a lasting impression. He was 3-0 in his four starts with an ERA of 2.05, a WHIP of 0.759 and 25 K's in 26.1 innings. He should be a sound investment for a 16th-round pick and he'll surely be on my roster.

Tampa Bay has another prospect worth watching, outfielder Desmond Jennings. Jennings is the team's long-term replacement for Carl Crawford. He's got an ADP of 262 so he'll be available late in your draft, but he's worth a flier. The 2010 Minor League Baseball Analyst said of him, "athletic and talented outfielder with no clear weaknesses."

Kansas City has two candidates worthy of consideration. Third baseman Mike "Moose" Moustakas has the power you would expect of someone with that nickname and the Royals desperately need home run hitters. Moustakas should be the Royals everyday third baseman by Memorial Day if not sooner.

The other is first baseman Eric Hosmer who can hit for power and average. Hosmer likely won't start in Kansas City, but could be there before September and is a name to remember for stashing on your roster late in the year.

In the National League there is Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, who batted .319 at AAA Gwinnett with 18 HR and 87 RBI.

The Giants have a slugging first baseman in the minors too, Brandon Belt, who could find his way to the majors before the end of the year. Playing for three different teams, Belt batted .352 with 23 HR, 112 RBI and 22 SB in just 493 at-bats. Those are the kind of numbers that make general managers and fantasy owners salivate.

If you are in a keeper league, make sure you pay attention to the youngsters so that your reign as champion will last longer than just 2011.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.


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